The wildlife-rich Tana River Delta has been the focus of a lot of controversy over the past five years or so with major (and continuing) threats of sugarcane and Jatropha plantations for biofuels, oil exploration and other developments. Most recently there has been some serious violence linked to land ownership and use issues with many people displaced and a number killed. For many years there has been a plan to have the delta recognised as a Ramsar site which gives it additional high level recognition that it is an internationally important wetland for both biodiversity and as a resource for humans and thus should be conserved – or rather, in the words of the Ramsar Convention, it should be conserved and used wisely “through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”
On 12th October the Tana Delta Ramsar Site was announced as Kenya’s 6th Ramsar site. This comes as a result of a lot of hard work by Kenya Wildlife Service who took the lead in the process with significant support from KenWeb and the Kenya Wetlands Forum amongst others.
The email that was circulated read as follows:
“The Secretariat is very pleased to announce that Kenya has designated the Tana River Delta as a Wetland of International Importance. As summarized by Ramsar’s MS Ako Charlotte Eyong, from the accompanying RIS, the Tana River Delta Ramsar Site (163,600 hectares, 02°27’S 040°17’E), an Important Bird Area (IBA) in Coast Province, is the second most important estuarine and deltaic ecosystem in Eastern Africa, comprising a variety of freshwater, floodplain, estuarine and coastal habitats with extensive and diverse mangrove systems, marine brackish and freshwater intertidal areas, pristine beaches and shallow marine areas, forming productive and functionally interconnected ecosystems.
This diversity in habitats permits diverse hydrological functions and a rich biodiversity including coastal and marine prawns, shrimps, bivalves and fish, five species of threatened marine turtles and IUCN red-listed African elephant (Loxodonta africana), Tana Mangabey (Cercocebus galeritus), Tana River Red Colobus (Procolobus rufomitratus rufomitratus) and White-collared Monkey (Cercopithecus mitis albotorquatus). Over 600 plant species have been identified, including the endangered Cynometra lukei and Gonatopus marattioides.
As one of the only estuarine staging posts on the West Asia – Eastern Africa coastal flyway, it is a critical feeding and wintering ground for several migratory waterbirds such as waders, gulls and terns. The main human activities include fishing, small-scale family-oriented agriculture, mangrove wood exploitation, grazing, water supply, tourism and research (ongoing research on the protection and monitoring of breeding turtles and the conservation of dugongs).
Kenya presently has six Ramsar Sites, covering an area of 265,449 hectares.”
A map of the new Ramsar site is given below (taken from the Ramsar website):